January 29, 2013: Part 1 – Imagining War
Discussions centered around Geraldine Brooks’ book March, and selections from America's War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, a new anthology edited by Edward L. Ayers. March tells its story through the characters of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women by representing the point of view of Reverend March, the father of the girls in Little Women. The reader travels with the chaplain into places where he is not wanted, where his values elicit ridicule and contempt. The harsh world of slavery, men and war challenges everything the March family believes in, including one another. Another voice in the first conversation is Louisa May Alcott's, drawn from her experiences as a nurse for the Union in 1862. Alcott tells of her determination to find a purpose for her life by helping the hospitals in Washington, D.C. She experiences horror, satisfaction and deep personal trials during her time with the wounded, ill and dying men.
February 5, 2013: Part 2 – Choosing Sides
Discussions focused on selections from America's War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, with commentary on the conflict that is presented when the Confederacy and the Union are formed and Americans experience a split in beliefs and loyalties. Abolitionists, including the March family from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, encourage Frederick Douglass to make a speech on their behalf, but Douglass gives them more than they asked for by stripping away any illusions white Americans may have had about their innocence, confronting them directly with the hypocrisy of a nation dedicated to freedom and built on slavery. Abraham Lincoln attempts to restore division as he is elected into presidency, Robert E. Lee embodies the agony of disunion, and Mark Twain tells of his own wayward path in the confusing early days of the war.
February 19, 2013: Part 3 – Making Sense of War
Part three of the discussion series approached the Battle of Shiloh, which occurred in April 1862, almost exactly a year after Fort Sumter and the secession of Virginia. The battle redefined the boundaries of the military conflict, as thousands of men with little training and no experience in war were thrown against one another in days of inexpressible suffering and waste. The war was seen as a desperate, defiant effort by the Confederacy to stop the progress of the Union Army and Navy, and shattered any fantasies people had that the war would be won easily by either side.
March 5, 2013: Part 4 - The Sense of War
The fourth segment of the discussion series focused on opposing views on the victors of Antietam. Civil War historian James McPherson sides for a Union victory, while historian Gary Gallagher argues on behalf of the strength of the Confederate Army. Drew Gilpin Faust’s excerpt shifts our focus from the course of battle and politics to the suffering of families and communities and asks that we broaden our vision of what took place.
March 26, 2013: Part 5 – War and Freedom
The final conversation focused on the emancipation of four million people who had been held in slavery for over two centuries. Following the conclusion of the war at Antietam, President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation, allowing Frederick Douglass to rally black men to the defense of the United States because it is now fighting for their freedom. While the Gettysburg Address, given in November 1863, does not speak of slavery directly, its potent language frames the purpose of the war as freedom understood it its broadest terms. After finally being able to enlist, 200,000 African American men joined the service in just two years. Emancipation was not a single event but a long and uneven series of struggles on plantations and farms, in cities and town, all across the South. In a final essay on "Images of the War," America’s War illuminates drawings from artists who were able to see firsthand, army camps in the midst of battle and enabled the public to picture the war as it progressed and to help us make sense of the American Civil War today.